Ensuring Strong Patent Enforcement Position Through Virtual Patent Marking

U.S. patent law encourages patent owners to mark products or services that are covered by at least one claim of a patent. Therefore patent marking is an important step in ensuring a strong patent enforcement position if infringement occurs. The America Invents Act now allows “virtual patent marking” as explained below.

Reason for Marking
Section 287 of Chapter 25 of the U.S. Code provides that if a patent owner fails to mark its patented invention, then the damages will be limited to those arising after the infringer was notified of the infringement. However, if the invention is marked, then the patent owner will be able to get damages back to the start of the infringement (subject to any applicable statute of limitations).

Therefore, lets see what happens if the invention is not marked. Assume that an infringer starts infringing your patent five years ago, but you only discovered the infringement today and thereafter quickly sent the infringer a demand letter notifying the infringer of the infringement. Lets assume that the sales over the last 5 years resulted in 3 million dollars in recoverable patent infringement damages. Since the invention was not marked, the patent owner would only be able to recover damages arising after the infringer received the infringement demand letter, and not the 3 million dollars accruing over the last 5 years.

Therefore, marking has an impact on the damages that are recoverable for infringement. Also, whether the invention was marked impacts how a infringer might react to a claim of infringement. If the infringer has a liability of 3 million dollars in damages the infringer is obviously in an inferior bargaining position in terms of settlement as compared to if the infringer as no monetary liability because the invention was not marked.

Who Should Mark
Those that are making, offering for sale, or selling within the United States any patented article or importing any patented article into the United States should mark. Therefore if you are not commercializing your invention by the above activities, you are not subject to the damages limitations of section 287.

How to Mark
Marking notice may be given either by (1) fixing on the product the word “patent” or the abbreviation “pat.”, together with the number of the patent, or (2) by fixing thereon the word “patent” or the abbreviation “pat.” together with an address of a posting on the Internet, accessible to the public without charge for accessing the address, that associates the patented article with the number of the patent.

If from the character of the patent article, the product itself cannot be marked, then it is permissible to fix the above notice on a label attached to the product or to the package of the product.

Virtual Marking
As provided above, you can provide notice by listing a internet address together with the word patent or pat. where the resulting internet webpage provides an association between each patented article and the corresponding number of the patent. In this way you can quickly and easily update the marking of products with newly issued patents by updating the patent marking webpage to show the patents that apply to the corresponding product. This alleviates the need to change molds or packaging as new patents are issued.

Routinely Updated. The webpage should be updated whenever a patent status changes, including when a patent issues and if a court or the USPTO invalidates or narrows the patent in a way that would change whether the corresponding product is covered by the patent.

Availability. The webpage should be continuously available so that anyone trying to determine the patents covering a product/service will be able to have ready access to the webpage. Records of continuous webpage availability should be kept.

Change log. Further it would be best to keep a change log of the changes to the patent marking webpages so that the log shows the details of each change made to the webpage and the date that change was made. This change log is important to show when marking related to a given product/service or patent began on the webpage.

Published Applications. Published patent application and corresponding products may also be listed on the same or a different web page. When listing published patent application on the same page as issues patent, it should be clear that the published application are not issued patents. The benefit of listing published patent applications is that the webpage might provide actual notice that could allow for the recovery of royalties under provisional patent rights statute.

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